A Tough Day

TA Falls To Fort In Final

Posted: November 5, 2012

TA’s Brittany Evans and Emily Shickel (left) go up for a block against Fort’s Savannah Wilson. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
Fort’s Megan Good spikes the ball over TA’s Brittany Evans (1) and Katelyn Senger.
HARRISONBURG – Before heading to Harrisonburg High School for its Valley District tournament final Saturday, Turner Ashby’s volleyball team convened at coach Gina Troyer’s house. The Knights played upbeat music, acted like silly teenage girls — anything to put smiles on faces that, just moments earlier, were masked by tears.

At 10 a.m., the players had attended a memorial service at TA for classmate Jackson Reel, who died in a car crash Tuesday that also claimed the life of another Turner Ashby student, Cyndal Ward.

At 1 p.m., they were scheduled to play defending champion Fort Defiance for the Valley title.

Obviously, the juxtaposition of the two events was difficult emotionally on the players. But the Knights said they almost got their focus back on volleyball by the time the championship match began — and they almost beat Fort.

After being blown away in Game 1, the top-seeded Knights regrouped to win Game 2 before falling in the next two tightly contested games. Fort, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, beat TA 3-1 (25-9, 18-25, 25-21, 25-21) to win it second straight tourney title.

“It’s very rewarding,” Fort coach Sue Leonard said.

As the regular-season champions, the Knights still will host a quarterfinal game in the Region III tournament Tuesday at 7 p.m. — and they will play a very familiar opponent, Valley District rival Spotswood. TA was seeded second behind E.C. Glass, while SHS was seeded No. 7. Fifth-seeded Fort Defiance will visit No. 4 Lord Botetourt.

Sports often is a respite from the real world, and it was just that for the Knights on Saturday.

The entire TA team attended the service for Reel, a former TA wrestler who, at age 16, died at the scene of the crash on Coopers Mountain Road near Clover Hill. The 17-year-old Ward, who was taken to Rockingham Memorial Hospital and later transferred to the University of Virginia Medical Center, died Wednesday night and was memorialized at a service Sunday.

The news Tuesday was devastating to Turner Ashby, and it was made even crueler as information slowly unfolded over the next 24 hours.

While the Knights practiced Wednesday, Ward was still on life support.

“We spent probably 20 minutes at the beginning of practice [Wednesday] just talking about the situation,” Troyer said. “I had a little time where I told them that they are a team and they can lean on each other, and every day, you need to tell people how you feel about them. Really make the most of every day.”

Wearing self-designed black-and-red headbands in honor of Reel and Ward, the Knights – inspired in part, they said, by the community rallying around them – advanced past Waynesboro in the semifinals Thursday.

Then, they had to get through a wrenching Saturday.

Before the match began, TA senior Abby Cleaver said, she and her teammates did “a pretty good job” of clearing their heads. But their emotions of the memorial a few hours earlier still weren’t completely in check.

How could they be?

“We had multiple people come up to all of us [during the week], and they were just like, ‘Bring this back for us, do this for us,’ which just makes it 10 times harder,” Cleaver said. “We wanted it for us, we wanted to win, but we wanted it for our community, too.”

Fort, however, dominated the Knights in the opening set, scoring 11 straight points during one stretch, en route to the victory. Junior outside hitter Megan Good led the way, notching a match-high 24 kills and receiving her second straight Valley District Player of the Year award. Good also finished with 19 digs and four blocks.

After the first set, TA played more like the team that had lost just one district match all season – though that, too, was to the Indians. With middle blocker Cleaver contributing 10 kills and six blocks, junior libero Marissa Collier digging out 29 balls and senior setter Emily Shickel amassing 26 assists, the Knights controlled Game 2 and hung around in back-and-forth Games 3 and 4.

Following the match, teary-eyed Knight players put their arms around each other in consolation, as they had throughout their difficult week. But after accepting the regular-season Valley championship trophy, their spirits were lifted somewhat in knowing that their season goes on with the Region III tournament.

“The train’s still moving,” Collier said. “It hasn’t stopped.”

At the same time, the team also kept sports in perspective.

“It kind of has been tough this week, because we haven’t been able to focus as much as we wanted on the tournament,” Troyer said. “And, you know, there are things that are bigger than volleyball.”

Spotswood 3, Waynesboro 2: Senior middle hitter Alyse High had a match-high 23 kills, four blocks and four digs, leading Spotswood High School to a 3-2 win over Waynesboro in the Valley District tournament consolation match Saturday that determined the district’s final bid to this week’s Region III tournament.

The Blazers, who will play Turner Ashby on the road Tuesday in the first round of the regionals, improved to 11-8; the Little Giants finished their season 10-7.

Waynesboro was led by 21 service points and nine kills from junior Logan Graves.
All-Valley District

First team

Megan Good, Fort Defiance (Jr.)

Regan Cook, R.E. Lee (Jr.)

Jasmine Johnson, R.E. Lee (Jr.)

Alyse High, Spotswood (Sr.)

Abby Cleaver, Turner Ashby (Sr.)

Marissa Collier, Turner Ashby (Jr.)

Emily Shickel, Turner Ashby (Sr.)

Logan Graves, Waynesboro (Jr.)

Julia Lucas, Waynesboro (Jr.)

Second Team

Carli Hill, Fort Defiance (Sr.)

Taylor Grogg, Harrisonburg (Sr.)

McKenzie Jenkins, Spotswood (Soph.)

Bailey Williams, Spotswood (Sr.)

Maria Shickel, Turner Ashby (Soph.)

Abby Lee, Waynesboro (Jr.)

Player of the Year: Megan Good, Fort

Coach of the Year: Gina Troyer, TA